Hans Niemann, the 19-year-old who has confessed to cheating in online games but denies any illegalities over the board, faces a crucial credibility test at St Louis on his US Championship debut.
The organizers have beefed up security, with spectators barred, a new metal detector to frisk players and a 30-minute delay before the games are displayed to online viewers. Live online coverage now starts at 7.30pm.
Niemann is the sixth seed on current ranking in a field of 14, behind the five grandmasters who represented the US in the recent 180-nation Olympiad, but ahead of experienced GMs and other rising talents. The impact of his success or failure on his championship debut will be greatly magnified due to the allegations against him.
A top-three outcome will be a huge boost to his status, given the backdrop and the strong anti-cheating security. Finishing above some or all of the Olympiad team will be a major success, around a 50% total will be normal, anything worse will immediately spark new jibes.
Round one on Wednesday went well for Niemann. His fellow debutant, Christopher Yoo, the youngest in the field at age 15, played too passively early on with White, then fought back.
The late stages of the game had two critical moments. Instead of 31 Re2? as played, Yoo could have completely equalized by 31 Nxd5! Five moves later, when 36 Bxe4 would still have given White good chances for a draw, Yoo blundered fatally by 36 e6?? no ticing too late that his intended follow-up of Bxe6 37 gxf5 Qxf5 38 Nxf5+ Qxf5 39 Bg4? forking queen and rook would fail to Rdh8! 40 Bxf5 Rh1 mate.
In his truncated post-game interview, Niemann said: “It was such a beautiful game that I don’t even need to describe it.” This hyperbole may add fuel to negative comments about his attempts to provide coherent analysis to some of his previous wins.
Niemann missed a great opportunity to reach 2/2, and so take a clear lead in the championship, on Thursday. His subtle strategic play achieved a won position a pawn up against Jeffery Xiong’s French Defence, but the blunder 25 Bg4?? on which he thought for four minutes, gave away his extra pawn and his entire advantage, leaving a level rook endgame which was drawn by repetition at move 43.
Meanwhile, a passage in the chess.com report on Niemann which says his rapid rise has no previous has also come in for sharp criticism.
“Hans became the fastest rising top player in classical, over-the-board chess in modern recorded history,” the report said, calling it “statistically extraordinary.”
However, a variety of sources have pointed out other claims, including a list which has Niemann down in 15th place.
Despite the American’s rapid rise, he is still only just inside the world top 40, while Alireza Firouzja, the Iranian/French prodigy who scooped almost all the top awards at last month’s Sinquefield Cup, is the same age as Niemann, world No 4, and rated more than 80 points higher than the American.
Several of the Indian and Uzbek talents could be placed significantly higher than Niemann, given that they are around two years younger. The same goes for Germany’s Vincent Keymer, 17, who only finished his high school exams in January this year and has reached a 2700 rating based on fewer games than Niemann. Although Niemann has risen fast in a short time period, he has done so by often playing with minimal breaks between tournaments and thus has been a far more active competitor. That has compensated for his base age being older than others.
The question still to be answered is when and whether Niemann’s progress will stall. Reaching a 2700 rating is no guarantee of 2750 or 2800. A prime example is China’s Wei Yi, who achieved 2700 at age 15, peaked at 2753, and now, nearly a decade later, remains becalmed in the low 2700s.
The logistics of cheating over-the -board and getting away with it for any length of time remain extremely difficult. Sébastien Feller in 2010 went nearest but the need for an accomplishment eventually found him out. There is still no hard evidence against Niemann so the presumption of innocence until proven guilty stays intact.
Meanwhile, Magnus Carlsen is representing his Oslo club, Offerspill, in the European Club Cup in Mayrhofen, Austria. The world champion began with a draw against an opponent rated nearly 300 points lower, but won well in round two and scored in a bishop endgame in Thursday’s third round.
It has been a long time since a women’s international event featured a full strength British team, so Wood Green’s entry to this week’s European Women’s Club Cup is a landmark.
Seeded seventh out of 16, the squad is led by IM Irene Sukandar of Indonesia, who represents Wood Green when in Europe, followed by England’s top trio of IM Jovanka Houska, IM Harriet Hunt, WGM Katarzyna Toma, and Scotland’s GM Keti Arakhamia-Grant .
The group has plenty of experience, although a third-round loss to the No 3 seeds with players from Ukraine, Romania and Poland showed that eastern Europe still dominates the women’s game. Wood Green had an excellent 2.5-1.5 win in round four and will now meet the No 1 seeds, Monte Carlo, in Friday’s fifth round (1pm start, live online).
3836: 1 g6! fxg6 (hxg6?? 2 Qh8 mate) 2 Qe5! Resigns. Black loses a rook after Rf1 3 Qe6+ or Ra8 3 Qd5+ or Rb8 3 Qe6+ Kxg7 4 Qe5+.